Mentoring Program Offers Opportunity to Help At-Risk Youths

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Lamaar (right), a GoodGuides program participant, gets help with college applications from Remie, a volunteer mentor.

The Goodwill GoodGuides™ Youth Mentoring Program generates positive results for everyone involved – the young participants, their communities, and definitely for their volunteer mentors.

Sponsored by Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the program targets youths between the ages of 12 and 17 who are at risk for dropping out of school, facing legal troubles, or delinquency due to issues such as abuse, disability, or drug or alcohol use. The initiative’s success is based on the involvement of responsible adult mentors who build strong, trusting relationships with the youths.

More volunteer mentors are urgently needed now to keep the growing program going and training is provided by Goodwill.

“This program is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to reconnect and give back to the community while making a major difference in the life of a troubled youth,” said Program Manager Jackie Abel-Stavropoulos. “The mentors’ role is vitally important because they help these young people very directly, guiding them to choose the right path in life, to finish school and to move toward productive careers.”

Small groups of youths and mentors meet weekly for about two hours and talk about setting personal goals. They spend some of the time discussing career plans and developing ‘soft skills’ such as decision making, interpersonal relations, problem solving, and team work, the kinds of skills employers say are most lacking in new employees.

Participants get involved in the community by creating service projects which they plan and carry out while having fun and making a meaningful contribution to the community.

“While the GoodGuides program certainly benefits the young people who participate, the mentors really get a lot out of it too,” Ms. Abel-Stavropoulos said. “They develop trusting relationships with troubled youths who look to them for advice and most importantly, as someone who will listen to what they have to say without judging them.”

The overall goal is to help the youths build career plans and learn important skills by providing structured and supportive relationships with trusted adults. Specific objectives are improved school attendance and academic scores, high school graduation, career exploration, financial literacy, and community service experience.

“The participants learn through their service projects that they are valuable parts of their communities and that there are responsibilities that go along with that,” Ms. Abel-Stavropoulos said. “By developing a sense of ownership and responsibility the youths see that their actions do make a difference in the community.  At the same time they are developing self-esteem and accountability, discovering leadership skills, and learning about teamwork. They learn that they really do matter – to their mentors and to the community as a whole.”

Many young people get into trouble due to peer pressure, poor decision making and feelings of isolation.  Through the strong relationships that are created with their mentors and with others in the program, participants develop a support system that can make the difference between good choices and bad choices.

“Many of the youths in our program feel that nobody listens to what they have to say and their opinions don’t matter,” Ms. Abel-Stavropoulos said. “With GoodGuides mentors, their opinions definitely do matter and they have a lot of input on what projects are selected and what topics are discussed.”

For information about becoming a GoodGuides™ volunteer mentor, contact Jackie Abel-Stavropoulos at 412-390-2308 or jackie.stavropoulos@goodwillswpa.org..

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